Due to a a couple of serious illnesses in our family, I will be taking a break from the blog for a few days and maybe slightly longer. I’ve tried to write something for the past couple of days but my mind wanders back to our loved ones, Denene’s mother and Ellen, our daughter.

As many of you know, they were each diagnosed with serious cancer just weeks apart  approximately three years ago. Denene’s mom has been receiving chemo for the entire three years, along with a couple of emergency surgeries. Three weeks ago she was rushed to a Raleigh hospital where she underwent another surgery. She has been extremely ill since and has had to pause her much-needed chemo treatments.

We’d hoped to travel there to visit with her for a few days, but COVID concerns have not made it possible for us to do so. She’s ill and I take medication that greatly suppresses my immune system. Denene and I have not left our property since March, with the exception of a very brief ride in he countryside just to see civilization again.

Then the big whammy hit this week. Ellen called me one night to say she was experiencing severe abdominal pains so her husband was taking her to the ER. There or four hours later she texted a message to me that sent my heart to the floor. Her cancer had returned and it was far worse than before.

I Am Crushed. Numb. Heartbroken. Devastated. And Helpless.

So please forgive me for neglecting this blog, MurderCon, responses to emails, etc. I need time to process, to hold back tears and even to shed a few, and to pray for our daughter and my mother-in law. My thoughts are scattered and bounce around inside my head like rubber balls. Emotions are all over the place.

It’s not been a good year for any of us, and I feel quite selfish for just days ago hoping to see enough Virtual MurderCon registrations to save the event from sinking lower than the Titanic. Right now, well, my mind is on the pain I heard in my daughter’s voice when I spoke with her by phone this afternoon.

Ellen had beaten the odds before, after enduring emergency life-saving surgeries and chemo and radiation, sickness, hair loss, extreme pain, memory loss, and more, and then their home was totally destroyed by fire not long after she rang the bell celebrating her last chemo treatment. They lost everything they owned, but thanks to many of you they pulled themselves together and found and fixed up a small home. Then, Ellen’s husband lost his job due to COVID restrictions.

Your generosity and kindness has much appreciated and needed.

Tyler, our grandson, is scheduled to head to college in three weeks, a few days after his mom sits to receive the first of many aggressive chemo treatments, and radiation. It’s tough enough to start college without having such a huge weight resting on his shoulders. He’s a remarkable young man who, during all the hardships he faced, continued to maintain his grades and compete as a champion wrestler who earned his pick of scholarships at colleges around the country.

Anyway, this where I am right now, wandering around aimlessly and unable to concentrate. I humbly ask that you please stick with me. I’ll return here as often as I’m able.

In the meantime, kind thoughts, prayers, and well-wishes are appreciated.

Thank you,

Lee

Fighting Dinosaurs

Graduating from the police academy is an experience all its own. And, after many weeks of what some recruits equate to a brief period of time spent in hell on earth, receiving the paper that makes it official, that you are indeed a bona-fide law enforcement officer is nothing short of a warm and fuzzy kind of moment.

There’s a huge amount of pride attached to the actual ceremony, as well as a great sense of accomplishment. Make no mistake about it, police academy training, while fun at times, can be extremely stressful, and taxing on muscles and mind. Therefore, when you’re finally holding paper in-hand and a shiny badge tightly pinned to your shirt, all you want to do is Par-Tay! And that’s exactly what I and my fellow recruits had in mind the night of our academy graduation. Unfortunately, my celebration was to be short-lived.

My boss, a gruff, no-nonsense sheriff, attended the ceremony along with his wife, who was also a no-nonsense gruff and never-smiling person. The sheriff sat beside me during the banquet, with his charming wife to his right, and we enjoyed a very pleasant conversation between bites of some pretty tasty food. Midway through the meal, during my suave and fascinating conversation, the high-sheriff, while alternating between shoveling forkfuls of red meat meat and potatoes into the opening in his face that sat squarely between a pair of sagging jowls, turned toward me to ask, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Which department do you work for?”

After letting his surprising comments sink in for a quick moment, I realized he had no idea that I worked for him. I was one of his deputies. The latest model, actually. Freshly trained and well-exercised, and as eager to get to work as they come.

When I explained to my new boss that he was, in fact, my boss, he half-heartedly pretended that the whole thing had been a joke. Obviously, it was not. But I didn’t intend to waste the situation. Not at all.  Nope, I had his attention and I planned to make the most of it.

In fact, II took the opportunity to discuss my future—when I’d begin my field training program (upon completion of academy training officers then receive on-the-job, hands-on training while riding with a certified field training officer), how long before I’d make detective and/or possibly the second in command of the entire department, etc.

Well, he matter-of-factly brushed aside my lofty aspirations, gulped a big ole shot of straight bourbon, and calmly retrieved a folded sheet of paper from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He then handed the paper—a copy of the patrol schedule—to me while reloading his beefy jowls with heaping forkfuls of red velvet cake.

The patrol schedule was the monthly assignment for the law enforcement deputies within his department—the police officers. All other deputies worked in the jail, courts, serving civil process, etc.. Then, between a couple of lip-smacking chews and another swallow of liquor, he said, “You’re working midnights, starting tonight.” I was both shocked and elated to learn that I’d hit the streets so quickly.

Everyone knows that midnight shift is normally considered the kiss of death. However, to a brand new rookie, even a graveyard shift assignment is as welcome and almost as exciting as a weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy. After all, you’re absolutely itching to bust the largest criminal enterprise known to cops worldwide.

But reality set in as I glanced at the clock on the wall, noticing that it was already nearly 10 p.m., and I hadn’t had any sleep. Didn’t matter, though. I was excited. Then the sheriff delivered even more “good” news. I’d be working the entire county, alone. A.L.O.N.E.

“What about my field training?” I said.

“No time. I’m short-handed,” he said. “If you run into any trouble call the state police. They’ll help out. Just don’t do anything stupid.”

The sheriff then stood, shook my hand, looked toward Mrs. Sheriff and nodded at the door. In another second they were gone, leaving me standing there holding the schedule in my hand. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be celebrating with my friends, but excited about going to work. But mostly, though, I was as nervous as a June bug at a chicken convention.

Two hours later I stood before a group of midnight shift dispatchers, jailers, and office staff. In all their years working there they’d never seen a “kid” fresh out of the academy hit the streets alone his first night out. I saw the fear in their eyes. I sensed the trepidation. I was flattered, of course, thinking they were worried about me, until I realized their concern was actually for the citizens of the county. I was their only defense against the evils of the world. And, as the sheriff’s office chain of command structure went, the ranking patrol deputy was in charge of the entire shift, jail included.

So yeah, I, on the job for only a matter of minutes, was in charge.

So I bid farewell to each of them and headed out into the dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a nice and bright late summer night. To me, though, it seemed as if I were a character in a bad novel with a really bad opening hook. “The deputy pushed open the door, determined to rid his county of evil zombies, mobsters, werewolves, and serial killers. Yes, he alone would save the world from death, doom, and destruction.”

My excitement was brimming over as I cruised the lonely, dark county roads, occasionally driving through well-lit parking lots, waving to night-shift clerks. I stopped in a few places to chat with employees and customers, but mostly my goal was to allow people to see me in my brand new uniform while driving my brand new patrol car with a brand new badge and name tag pinned to my chest. It was fun. I even played with the lights and siren a few times when I was on long, deserted stretches of roadway where I was sure no one was around to see or hear.

Then it happened. Two hours into my first shift, just when I felt as if I was riding on a cloud, I received my first call. “Fight in progress at Tommy Terrible’s Truck Stop. Weapons involved.” The fun melted from my face as quickly as a Kardashian can post an image to Instagram. It was lights and siren time for real.

So, as they say, I activated my emergency equipment (lights and siren) for real and soon turned into the truck stop parking lot where I saw what appeared (to me) to be two rather large dinosaurs going at it—fists swinging from every angle possible, and connecting with what appeared to be the force of the pile drivers used to construct bridges.

I sat there for a second with the engine idling, re-living the past several weeks of training. Hostage situation…check. Robberies…check. Kidnapping…check. Pursuit driving…check. Shooting range…check. Stepping between two monsters who’re engaged in the worst fight I’ve ever seen. Hmm … no class for that one.

I decided to drive my car as close to the pair as I could get, after calling the state police for assistance. (The closest trooper was twenty minutes away). Then I let off a nice blast from my siren. It worked. They stopped fighting and looked my way, so I stepped out of my car on legs that were quivering like a heaping mound of Jello during a California earthquake.

I attempted to talk to the two gentlemen since, at this point in my hours-long career, I had no clue if I should, or even could arrest either of them. So, and to protect my body from receiving a large number of painful injuries, I did the next best thing. I let one go inside the truck stop to have a cup of coffee, and I drove the other guy home.

On the way, I learned that it was his birthday and that he’d had a little too much to drink (duh). Being the quick thinker that I am, I jumped on the opportunity and told him that I’d let him off this time only because it was his birthday. However, the next time, well, I’d have to take him to jail. Sounded good to me, right? He didn’t need to know I was winging my way through this thing.

When I pulled up in front of the man’s modest trailer home, he shook my hand (his right hand, the equivalent of a giant oven mitt made of steel, gristle, and rhino hide, easily wrapped around mine) and thanked me for the ride and for not making him spend his birthday night in jail.

I waited as he worked his way around a variety of obstacles—rusted bicycles, an engine from a car that was nowhere to seen, home made plywood yard ornaments—a chubby woman bending over in the garden, a duck in a pole whose wings spun wildly in the wind, a life-size silhouette of a cowboy smoking a pipe—, an engine from a car that was nowhere to be seen, and a three-legged mixed breed dog attached to the mobile home by a logging chain.

He, the man, not the dog, used the back of a meaty fist to pound on the aluminum front door until the porch light, a yellow anti-bug lamp, switched on. A woman wearing a three-sizes-too-big NASCAR RULES t-shirt pushed open the door and immediately began to curse, between, of course, puffs on the unfiltered cigarette that dangled from her lips. I was amazed at how the cigarette clung to her lower lip even as she opened her mouth to yell. Finally, he gave her a slight shove and they both disappeared inside the metal box they called home. I exhaled, and then spent the next few hours patrolling the county while thinking of various defensive tactics techniques and drawing the mace container from my gun belt.

Probably not the prettiest conclusion to my first call, but it was a solution that actually paid off for me many times in the years to follow. You see, the guy I took home (I didn’t know it at the time) was an exceptionally good street fighter, a sort of legend in that area among the local police because it normally took four or five officers to handcuff and arrest him. At the time, I did not know how lucky I’d been.

Since that night, I’d been called to numerous fight scenes where this fellow had pummeled his opponents, smashing their bloody faces into barroom floors, walls, and tables all across the county and city. He’d sent a few police officers to the emergency room for various cuts, bruises, and broken body parts. He’d even tossed one rather large bouncer through a glass door. But, whenever I showed up he simply stopped fighting and walked to my car where he’d have a seat, ready for the drive to the county jail.

I guess the big man felt as if he owed me for not arresting him on his birthday. However, those easy-going feelings later changed, and that night, when he decided quite forcefully to not allow me to arrest him, was the night I introduced his forehead to my metal flashlight.

So that was my first night on the job. How was yours?

I wrote this four years ago. Am I psychic, or does history truly repeat itself?

 

A Vicious Circle

 

Trouble

Kids Die

Gangs High Crime

Rape, Cocaine Bloody Murder

Burglary Assault Robbery Carjacking

Increased Patrol Stop and Frisk Illegal Weapons

More Officers Canines Large Police Presence Crime Reduces

Less Guns on Street Safer for Officers and Public Businesses Flourish

Neighborhood Secure Residents Happy Fewer Deaths Kids Play

Police are Scary! Protesters and Politicians Complain

Angry Crowds Burning Looting Destruction

Officers Beaten Battered and Killed

Rape Cocaine Bloody Murder

Gangs High Crime

Kids Die

Trouble.

 

And so it goes …

It was 40 years ago today when the north slope of Mt. St. Helens exploded, sending a plume of ash 15 miles high, ash that would soon enter the jet stream and travel around the world.

The top 1,300 feet of the mountain was gone in a flash.

Miles and miles of majestic fir trees were leveled by the blast

Eighty-three-year-old Harry R. Truman, owner and caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake, near the foot of the mountain, refused to leave his home when authorities alerted him to the potential eruption. He, along with his 16 cats, are believed to have been killed in less than a second due to heat shock generated when the mountain blew. Their bodies instantly vaporized and the spot where they once were was then buried in 150 feet of landslide debris.

Fifty-six others also died that day.

Several years later, Denene and I visited Mt. St. Helens during a time when a new, rising lava dome suddenly began to form in the mountain’s jagged, gaping mouth. Occasionally it belched billowing plumes of steam as proof of the fire in its belly.

I often think about our trip to the eerie, yet tranquil volcano that unleashed the firestorm of devastation that destroyed vegetation and wildlife for miles. It consumed an entire lake.

The place reminds me of the corner of my mind where I go to when I want to be alone, the place where there are no sounds to disturb my thoughts. No movement to distract my imagination. It’s the place where I’m certain that Alfred Hitchcock, Poe, and Stephen King are each somehow connected. It’s the gate to the real-life Twilight Zone. The muse of all muses.

We saw signs of returning life nearly thirty years after the 1980 eruption—small flowers, young trees, grasses, and even a darting field mouse and a screeching hawk. But the thousands upon thousands of dead trees, all lying on their side-by-side and end-to-end, like rows and columns of matchsticks, all facing the same direction as a result of the blast, well, they’re a reminder of just how small and insignificant we humans really are.

A bit of Mt. St. Helens sits on a shelf in my office—two once molten rocks and a small chunk of Douglas fir that survived the blast.

Today I’d like to recognize a few of the folks who donate their valuable time to help with the writing of this blog. They show up each day with a strong desire to help writers deliver realism to their work. So, without further ado, here are a few of the characters who live at the tip of my pencil.

ZZ Cops

Deputy D. Roopy

Mike Media

Wesley Weiner

Paul Print

Carl Cricket

Peter Pepperspray

The Crying Cop

Billie Bluebird

Victor Villain

Ronnie the Rowdy Redneck

Ruben

The “Q-Tips”

White-haired retirees are sometimes referred to as Q-tips, because a group of the retirees stacked together in a sedan resemble Q-tips when observed by traffic officers patrolling the main drug corridors.

Bugsy

Captain Mark Question

Hillbilly Hank

Chuck the Chicken Thief

Fred Fly

Dee En A

The Old Man at the End of the Street

The Jail Birds

C. Pappy

The Gang at Bacteria Beach

Connie Cow and the Judge 

Earl

Wally Whistler

As always thanks to each of the characters who stop by to offer their expertise. I’d be lost without them and their valuable insight. And, they’re sometimes quick to alert me to sudden danger.

By the way, the fellow at the top of the page … well, that’s Sleeping Sam.

The good folks over at crimescenewriter are currently discussing the hired killers, and as it happens I’ve investigated cases where assassins were hired to kill other humans. The “employers'” motives for wanting certain folks to die immediately were the usual sort—jealousy, greed, money, and drugs.

By the way, crimescenewriter is a fabulous Q&A site where writers present questions to member experts (medical examiner, detectives, explosives, weapons, and other top experts in a variety of fields). I learn something new nearly every time I visit.

Since the topic popped up again, I thought today would be a good time to re-post this article. It’s a true story about a low level thief I’ve called Stump Johnson. The alias is to protect the identities of everyone involved in what I’m about to tell you.

As I said above, Stump was not the man’s given name, obviously. But in the area of the south where I worked as a detective, several folks had nicknames they’d “earned” for various reasons.

There was “One-Eye” Pearson (he lost his right eye as a result of a stabbing). “Truck” Turner, a slim, lanky man drove a tractor-trailer for a chicken processing plant. “Backy” Parnell, a man who’d worked at a tobacco plant in Richmond for most of his adult life. “Cotton” Roberts, a farmer’s eldest son. Bill “Jack” Daniels, an avid deer hunter who always, without fail, kept a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey under the seat of his pickup truck. And we mustn’t forget good ole “Road Runner” Rickert, a form high school football star who enjoyed running from the police even when he’d done nothing wrong. He simply enjoyed seeing cops run in his wake.

Stump didn’t do a thing to earn his nickname other than to be himself. He was short and stocky, and his arms and legs looked like they wanted to be a bit longer but never made it past the appearance of four lengths of chubby, overstuffed linked sausages attached to his torso. He also had a neck that wasn’t visible, as if his head rested squarely on his shoulders. So yeah, he looked like a tree stump. So …

The incident involving Stump started as a simple investigation about stolen property, a cheap copy machine, and it wound up as one of those sorts of investigations where a minor crime snowballed into a convoluted menagerie of criminal activity. One of those crimes involved murder.

Stump broke into a school to steal the copy machine. He did so in order to sell the device, hoping for a return of twenty dollars for very little time and effort invested. Then, after he’d handed over the copier to a local drug dealer in exchange for a small piece of crack cocaine, he’d smoke the drug and then head out to steal something else that could net another twenty-dollar “rock.” It’s a cycle that’s familiar to scores of addicts.

Anyway, Stump stole a copier and, unable to unload it to his regular dealer, sold it to a guy who was known for receiving stolen merchandise. The “guy,” a local businessman, had his “people” transport hot items out of town where they’d resell at a profit. Selling in a location other than where the property was stolen meant the chance of getting caught was less than great.

This time, however, Stump was arrested while purchasing crack cocaine during an undercover narcotics operation. And, to save his own skin, he started singing like a drunk parrot—“So and so sells liquor to kids. Uncle Billy Buck is dating an underage girl. My cousin speeds all the time. My mama once stole a loaf of bread. Aunt Lulla Belle dips snuff. Grandma runs a liquor still.” Anything that he thought would prevent going back to jail.

But the thing that brought me into the picture that night was when he said, “The ‘guy’ who bought the copier I stole is looking for someone he can hire to kill his lover’s husband.”

So we went to work, first by having undercover officers purchase stolen merchandise from the “guy,” who we’ll call Freddie the Fence. During the time of the undercover operation regarding stolen property, I’d also had undercover officers purchase narcotics from Fence’s girlfriend, the wife of the man Fence wanted to kill. I know, the tale’s a bit twisty right now but we’re getting there.

As soon as we had Fence’s adulterous girlfriend in custody, she, too, started snitching on everyone under the sun, including Fence. Miraculously, she’d instantly re-fallen in love with husband and was sorry for the affair with Fence. She said she’d been horrified to learn that Fence planned to have her husband killed. So she said, but feel free to insert a big, fat eye-roll at this point. I didn’t believe it either. Not for a minute. She was in on the plot from the beginning. Actually, the whole thing was her idea.

She told me she was scared of Fence. By the way, we’d recorded the two of them—the woman and Fence—together in their vehicles on numerous occasions and, believe me, the last thing she was, was afraid. If anything, it was Fence who should’ve been frightened of her, with all of the screaming and thrashing about going on during, well, you know.

She finally owned up to being a part of the scheme to murder her husband, hoping for a reduced sentence by being cooperative. She told me the plan was for her to convince her husband to join her on a picnic in a wooded area out in the countryside. The location was hilly with a creek situated where the bottoms of two rolling hills met. It was a place where vegetation was wild and wooly and the tree canopies were thick. It was that deep into the woods.

The specific point where the picnic was to take place was in a clear line of sight, one-hundred yards up to a midway point on the side of one of the hills. At that hillside location, the intended shooter-for-hire fashioned a makeshift hunting blind of branches, limbs, and loose pine straw. If a person didn’t know it was there they’d not have been able to spot it. He was to make the “kill shot” from the blind.

Before the appointed day of the killing, we asked the woman if she’d wear a wire during a meeting with Fence. She agreed and what we heard was as chilling as it gets. Fence detailed the entire plan, including that he’d decided to kill the hired assassin once the killer had murdered the woman’s husband (so many twisty turns). Then he and she would flee to another state where they’d live under assumed identities.

Fence named the assassin and he stated how much he’d already paid as a deposit and the amount of the balance due when the deed was done—$5,000 each time. He described everything, and even spilled the beans about his entire criminal enterprise, including his drug operation and where he bought his supply, and the routes they took when making their runs. He told where they hid stolen property and where they took it to sell, and more. All because he loved and trusted this woman who sold him out in mere seconds. Apparently the love was not reciprocal when a life sentence in state prison was at stake.

So, long story short, with probable cause established, I applied for search warrants for Fence’s business and home, as well as a warrant for the home of the hired gunman. We found stolen property and narcotics at all three places. Fence and Mr. Hitman were arrested and jailed. Both admitted their guilt and settled for a plea agreement.

The girlfriend/wife … sigh …  was welcomed back home by the intended victim of murder. Yes, her husband forgave her for playing a role in what was almost his demise. As far as his wife having an affair with Fence, the husband forgave her for that too. But, less than a year later she was in cahoots with another bad guy and was quite literally caught with her pants down when his place was stormed by police during drug raid. Yes, the goo-goo-eyed husband posted her bond and took her back, again.

In light of the current state of affairs, it’s become apparent that we’ve not given criminals the appropriate credit for their ingenuity, forethought, instinct, and an incredible amount of insight. Here’s why I say this.

  • We’re now wearing masks when we enter businesses. Robbers and other crooks have worn masks since, well, forever.
  • We wear gloves when out in public. Bad guys have utilized this method of protection for a long, long time.
  • We stand no closer than six feet from other humans. Criminals have long preferred to keep their distances, especially from police officers. In fact, when cops approach a crook the suspect often uses the quickness of their feet to enhance the recommended social distance.
  • We’re told to not cough or sneeze around others to avoid contamination. Bad guys use every means possible to prevent the distribution of  body fluids and other sources of DNA, and they’ve done so for many years.

The CDC published a checklist of things we should do to protect ourselves against contracting serious illness. Crooks developed a similar guideline and have used it since before Jesse James was knee-high to a grasshopper.

For example:

  1. Practice everyday preventive actions now. This is a no-brainer to a crooks—hide from the police, hide the drugs, don’t tell anyone anything, and don’t return to the scene of the crime. This is part of the lesson plan from the Bad Guy 101 Training Manual, 1st Edition.
  2. Learn about  employers’ emergency operations plans. This is known as “casing the joint.”
  3. Staying home from work, school, and all activities. AKA – On the Lam.
  4. Talk with the people who need to be included in your plan. AKA – Meeting with the gang to coordinate the next caper.
  5. Plan ways to care for those who might be at greater risk for serious complications. Make sure the slowest and dumbest accomplices don’t get caught. Help them during the getaway. Never snitch.
  6. Get to know your neighbors. Find out if the guy in the house next to yours is a cop. If so, don’t do anything to attract attention to your operation.
  7. Create an emergency contact list. Always carry a list of phone numbers of good defense attorneys and the local bail bondsman.
  8. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Doing so removes trace evidence, such as gunshot residue and and the blood of your latest victim.


*The coronavirus is serious, and not something to be taken lightly. This post is merely intended to add a smidgeon of tongue-in-cheek brightness to a cloudy day. However, if you take a moment to focus on the information you’ll see that it is indeed instructional and could be used as research for works fiction … sort of.

Please stay safe. Do go out unless absolutely necessary. Wear your masks and gloves. Use disinfectants and hand sanitizers.

So you think you’ve seen and heard it all? Well, think again, because these folks actually picked up the phone and dialed 911 to report …

“Help me, please!”

“Ma’am, calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

“My house is on fire. I just moved in today and turned on the heat and … and … and, that big metal thing in my living room caught on fire, please huuurrrrryyy! There are flames and  fire, and, and, and … AHHHH!!!! it’s getting hot! Huuurrrryyy!!! Oh, God, oh God, oh God … MY CAT’S GONNA DIE!”

Okay, so I arrive and see the distraught five-foot-tall, three-hundred-pound caller standing there on the front porch with the front door wide open. It’s 20 degrees outside and all she’s wearing is a t-shirt. Nothing but a t-shirt. And she’s crying and screaming and begging me to go inside to rescue her cat, a cat that was trapped inside the inferno.

I saw no flames, no smoke, and, well, nothing. So I stepped inside the small house. The cat was asleep on the sofa.

“See, it’s on fire. Look through that little glass and you can see the flames.”

“Ma’am, that’s your heater. It uses fire to warm your home. It’s perfectly safe.”

That’s when she realized she was wearing nothing “butt” a t-shirt.

I radioed dispatch and told them to cancel the responding fire units. Then I tried to erase from my mind what I’d just seen. It was not a pretty sight.

“I think my house is on fire.”

“You think your house is on fire? Do you see flames or smoke?”

“No, but my wall’s hot. Would you please send someone over to check it out?” Please hurry.

I went to the door, peeked inside through the glass inset, and saw a gentleman sitting on his couch watching Jeopardy.

I knocked.

The door opened quickly and the little man with hoot owl eyes peered out at me. He motioned for me to come inside.

“Thanks for coming officer. My house may be on fire.”

He led me to a fireplace and then placed his hand on the wall just over the center of the mantle.

The wall is hot. See, feel right here.”

“Sir, you have a roaring fire going in the fireplace. Naturally, the wall above it may get a little warm.”

“Thank you, officer. That never occurred to me.”

“Please help me! I’ve been locked inside my bedroom for several hours and can’t get out. I’m getting really hungry, too. And I’m pregnant and I’m really scared. Please help me!”

I broke a glass beside the front door, reached inside and turned the deadbolt latch (See how easy it is for burglars. Use a keyed deadbolt for better security, but remove the key from the lock). Then I opened the front door and went inside. Sure enough, she’s locked inside the master bedroom and she’s crying.

“I think I’m going to lose my baby because I’m so upset.”

More sobbing.

“Ma’am, did you try turning the little button in the center of the knob?”

A beat of silence followed by a faint click.

“I think I have it now. Thank you for coming by.”

“Yeah, um…could you send a cop over here right away, please. I just moved into this apartment and can’t figure out how to turn up the cold water temperature on my kitchen sink. It’s too cold and the landlord won’t help. He just hangs up on me.”

Instead of responding to the residence I used my cellphone to call the gentleman and politely explained that water temperatures are not a true emergency and that cold water temperatures occur naturally. They are what they are because tap water is piped directly from the city. He then proceeded to curse and rant and rave, saying I was a waste of taxpayer money and that I was a huge part of the reason the country was going down the toilet, which, as I explained to the “nice” man, is another place where the water temperature is non-adjustable.

Finally, our once or twice monthly 911 call to the same residence.

 

“You gotta send someone over right away. Elvis is back inside my refrigerator and he won’t stop singing. He keeps up that wild racket all night long.”

And so it goes, night after night after night …

 

As we face the uncertainties of the current state of the world, without a doubt we’re all feeling the pain of shopping for necessities—toilet tissue, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, food, and wine. The latter (wine) as everyone knows is a must-have item for writers. Without it library and bookstore shelves would soon become as bare as the paper goods aisle at the local Piggly Wiggly.

By the way, it’s illegal in our state to ship alcohol, including wine, to a residence. Therefore, to survive this high level emergency we must choose between an empty wine rack or venture outside the safety of our little compound to visit an essential business establishment. It’s a scary thought, especially after a possible sighting of Tina Turner and Mel Gibson zipping past our house yesterday. I assumed they were headed to Bartertown for the next Thunderdome battle. Even they, a pair used to apocalyptic life, wore hazmat suits, masks, and latex gloves.

Needless to say, since I’m not up on my Thunderdome jousting skills, we’re staying inside.

I wish I could help each of you in your quests to locate a source for hand sanitizer and toilet tissue but, for the well-being of my family I must keep those details a secret. However, I will share information as to how you can stock your pantry shelves with delicious and practically nonperishable canned meats and other sources of protein.

So grab a knife and fork and prepare to salivate.

First up …

Dehydrated Zebra Tarantula

Canned Reindeer Meat, and Gravy

Canned Rattlesnake

Mixed Bugs

Black Forest Scorpions

Worm Bites (mealworms, etc.)

Creamed Possum and Coon Fat Gravy

Six-Pack – Armadillo, Possum, Squirrel, Raccoon, and more!

Alligator in a Can

Duck Legs in a Can

Camel Jerky

Cheddar Cheese Flavored Darkling Worm Larvae

There you have it, the answer to your culinary needs and desires. So order now while supplies last!

Never start a story with the weather. I’ve heard this many times over the years.

Even Elmore Leonard kicked off his “Don’t-do-it” list with a rule about the weather.

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Same for places and things.
  10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

Elmore Leonard said it’s taboo!

Now, with that said and with an absolute clear understanding of the rules—NO Weather!—let’s get on with the show … today’s article. And it starts like this … with the weather.

It was a dark and stormy night in our county. A sideways rain driven by the type of wind gusts that TV weather reporters are often seen battling during live hurricane coverage of the really big ones, the storms that send trees toppling and waves crashing onto houses far from the shoreline.

I was hard at work that night, patrolling county roads and checking on businesses and homes, when my headlights reflected from something shiny a ways into in the woods. I stopped, backed up, and turned onto a narrow sloppy-wet dirt path that led me to a clearcut section along a power line, and eventually to the source of the reflection. It was a car parked approximately thirty yards off a dirt road next to a river. I used my spotlight to examine the vehicle and surrounding area.

The driver’s door was open and to my surprise the body of a woman was lying half-in and half-out, with the outside portion getting soaked by the deluge of water falling from the dark sky. I couldn’t tell if she was alive or not.

I turned the spotlight to scan the woods on both sides of the clearing. No sign of anything or anyone. It was one of those scenarios where every single hair on the bak of your neck and arms immediately leap to attention. Spooky, to say the least.

So, in spite of the downpour, thunder, lightning, and those hyper-vigilant hairs (the cop’s sixth sense was in full overdrive), I had to get out to investigate. So I did.

I again scanned the area carefully, again, using my Maglie, making certain this wasn’t an ambush. After another look around, I cautiously plowed forward while the winds drilled raindrops into my face and against my lemon-yellow vinyl raincoat, the one I kept in the trunk of my patrol car just for times like this one. The fury of those oversized drops of water was that of small stones striking at a pace equal to the rat-a-tat-tatty rounds fired from a Chicago typewriter.

The plastic rain protector I’d placed over my felt campaign hat worked well at keeping the hat dry, but the rain hitting it was the sensation of hundreds of tiny mallets hammering all at once, as if an all-xylophone symphony decided to perform a complex syncopated piece on the top of my head. At a time when I truly needed the ability to hear a single pin drop, well, it simple wasn’t happening.

It was a fight to walk headfirst into swirling, stinging winds that tugged and pulled and pushed against my rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.

The ground surrounding the car was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, soggy soil until it felt as if gooey, slimy bricks were attached to the bottoms of my feet with large suction cups.

These, during a dark and sorry night, were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

It was one-on-one—me and the victim.

Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted the victim’s face, gathering and pooling at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers that followed the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

Passenger door,

Open.

Bottom half in,

Top half out.

 

Lifeless hand,

Resting in mud,

Palm up.

Face aimed at the sky.

 

Rain falling,

Mouth open.

Dollar-store shoes,

Half-socks.

 

Youngest daughter—the seven-year-old,

Called them baby socks.

Her mother’s favorite,

Hers too.

 

Hair,

Mingled with mud,

And rainwater,

And sticks and leaves.

 

Power lines,

Overhead.

Crackling,

Buzzing.

 

Flashlight,

Bright.

Showcasing

dim, gray eyes.

 

Alone,

And dead.

A life,

Gone.

 

Three rounds.

One to the head,

Two to the torso.

Each a kill shot.

 

Five empty casings,

In the mud.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

 

Wine bottle.

Beer cans.

Empty.

Scotch.

 

“No, we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

Blushes all around.

“Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”

More blushing.

A stammer, or two.

A good man.

 

The rain comes harder,

Pouring across her cheeks.

Meandering

Through her dark curls.

 

Droplets hammer hard

Against her open eyes.

Pouring in tiny rivers,

To the puddles below.

 

She doesn’t blink.

Can’t.

She’s a dead woman crying,

In the rain.

 

Tire tracks.

A second car.

Footprints.

Two sets.

 

One walking.

Casually?

A sly, stealthy approach?

The other, long strides.

 

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging toward the woods.

Bullet lodged in spruce pine.

One round left to find.

 

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt.

 

Blood?

Still visible?

in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

 

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Cop’s best friend.

Light catches shoe in underbrush.

Shoe attached to man.

 

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together, nicely.

 

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion …

 

A good man.

Sure he is.

Police car,

Parks at curb.

 

Morning sunshine.

Tiny face,

Peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”

 

Husband, devastated.

Children crying.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

 

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher,

Hangs head in shame.

 

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But …

Another man.

 

A second lover.

Anger.

Jealousy.

Revenge.

 

Handcuffs.

Click, click.

Murder’s the charge.

No bond.

 

Single, unique plant seed,

Stuck to brake pedal.

Bingo!

Tied him to the scene.

 

Got him.

Prison.

Life.

No parole.

 

A “good man”, a preacher, left the little girl’s mama to cry in the rain.

 


Today, well, raindrops squiggle and worm their way down the panes of my office windows.

And, as it often happens on days like today,

I think of the crying dead woman.

Of her kids,

Her loving husband and,

Of course,

Baby socks.